The dust begun to clog up my bandana as I surged down the arroyo. I was seated-slash-clinging for dear life on an ATV, my thumb sore from trying to keep the throttle button pressed at a steady position. I was in the rear of an ATV caravan, keeping up the vanguard as I ate everyone else’s dust. My clothes were no longer white and blue but a golden brown, the same as my forearms, my only exposed skin. The display had long since been covered over, wiped off and covered over again in the sand and dust of the dry creek bed. A pair of cheap sunglasses, purchased from the supermercado in Cabo San Jose were already lost, having been flung from my shirt pocket with the rapid up-down-upupup undulations of the uneven creek bed. In short, I was having the time of my life.
Those that know me know that I am someone for whom risk is a thing to be calculated, examined. I want to know a thing, know how it can-slash-will all go wrong and then plan my meager best to deal said fallout. I don’t know why I do this, to be perfectly frank. I am at my best when stressed, when the problems are present and immediate. I excel at problem solving, so maybe I, against all advice I tend to give, am inventing problems.
Regardless, it’s a thing. Call it a character defect.
Character defects have been a topic lately for me, one I am trying to excise from my vocabulary, from my day-to-day thought. A vacation story might be a weird lede for this topic, but for the last month, such has been my life — hard work, hard personal work of therapy and vacation and travel interspersed.
Such has the length of my absence from this discipline have been, I don’t really remember if I’ve mentioned therapy in this space. I believe that I have, but clearly have not got into the meat of it, as it was the day before I got on a plane to Baja California to disappear for eight days that we had my first major breakthrough — a challenge from therapist to patient to crack the shell that I’ve formed.
Allow me to explain.
Those that know me also know that if there’s one character trait of mine that stands out in abundance it is extroversion. I’m affable, gregarious. I know this. It’s never been my problem to break the ice or to carry a conversation. If anything, it’s a trait that I’ve learned from my father, a mimic trait, a pale imitation if you want. Others are the key to our happiness, our getting on in this world, hell, some times our survival. Making people happy is not just a joy and its own reward, but an important skill in our inter-connected world. But mostly, it’s a pleasure to make others laugh.
It’s also total bullshit.
That’s a lie. Well, an over-dramatization1perish the… folks at this point, I’m just under contractual obligation to say it. But what I really mean to say is that it’s skin deep, a thick surface of schmooze and easy small talk. It was to put it lightly, a hammer to that shell to hear it said aloud; I tell stories to avoid deep conversation, to avoid uncomfortable conversation. And more to the point, after a month of therapy, she had me, dyed in the wool.
Just about every emotion is uncomfortable for me.
It would be too pat, too easy to say my anxiety stems from the abject fear I have sharing this. But it ain’t 100% wrong. Still, the challenge from her to dig deep yielded amazing results. As I sat in one of the most beautiful deserts of the world, looking out on the Sea of Cortez, I contemplated the last few weeks of therapy, my responses, and took a serious look at my fears. I was pretty happy to be able to see them in new light, see that maybe I wasn’t broken for being afraid to share more than surface thoughts and logic.
In those moments, I felt a lot of fear melt away. I came back energized and ready to share, and the following week, we had a productive session, digging into the meat of that anxiety, and me starting to grasp how better to be mindful and ready to be more emotionally vulnerable.
That’s a big leap. I don’t blame you for skepticism. We’ll get there, I promise. If I don’t tell the story in my own way, I never will. But that thing, that look twenty times before I leap, it’s still there. Patience.
Said breakthroughs were once again put on hold as I boarded an airplane, this time for Sin City for a week of work conference and decidedly not much fun. I don’t like Las Vegas, never have, and I doubt that I ever will. It’s just not my scene, the partying, the excess, the lights, the noise, the money. The smoke and depression. The failed dreams and schemes of dull eyed fuckboys, the hucksters that remind me too much of Bangkok and measuring people for their worth. Though I had made plans to escape the conference and try to get off the Strip, I never did.
Part of it was the wining and dining with vendors and prospective vendors alike. This was for work, after all, and we had a mission there. Part of it was the ever present smoke between the Sands convention center and my hotel room2woot, Venetian, bitches. Most of it, though, was the exhaustion of networking, the putting aside of the newfound depths that I wanted to explore, and putting on what I’ve called before in my younger years as “the act.” That skin-deep Josh, the funny and charming Josh, the sometimes awkward Josh.
Baja left me ready to explore. Vegas shut me back up again.
But, a week later, I walked back down to my therapist’s office and dug back in. I did the storytelling thing for a bit, amused at her patience, and then shifted gears quickly into the heart of things. I sped up. I didn’t look around, I just went for it.
That looking fifty times before I leap thing gets annoying. I’d love to say that I’m a free soul, uninhibited and unafraid of change. I try, no doubt, but I’m not good at it. And that’s okay. Those times I’ve leapt in have worked out pretty well. But there’s always room to improve. And improvement is the name of the game, right? Nobody’s perfect but that doesn’t mean you stop trying.
So I try. Sometimes I even succeed. Sometimes, I realize that I haven’t even understood what trying really is. But what else can one do? You look, you leap, you fall, you pick yourself back up. It’s not a new concept.
This looking thing doesn’t exist when it comes to speed, driving. I am reckless, always have been, behind the wheel. It’s silly, perhaps, it’s juvenile, sure, it’s dangerous, no doubt. But given open roads I am full speed ahead, watching my car devour road and hug corners. My eyes tighten and my breath quickens. I want more and so I shift a gear and hammer the gas. This isn’t a metaphor, and I’m not sorry to say that I know I haven’t hit my top speed yet. If there’s one thing I’d be addicted to, it’s driving fast. I know it’s not smart — at any given moment, a thousand things could go wrong and I or someone else gets seriously hurt. It’s stupid and ridiculous and it’s as close as masochism as I’ve let myself get. That I could hurt others is the only control on this.
I’m no sadist, after all.
Apparently “the wheel” also refers to handle bars. So I found myself flying down a creek bed in Baja California, my thumb no longer holding the throttle steady, but fully depressed, my laughter audible only to myself over the cranking of the engine and wind, the Sea of Cortez sparkling like stars in my eyes as I hurdled myself towards a blue horizon. I thought of my family, now behind me, their bandanas also barely equal to the task of filtering the dust of arroyo, and that thought alone checked my sense.
But in that moment, hurtling towards salt water, this thought came to me, and it’s taken me a thousand words and four weeks to write it and this is why we’re really here today;
This is who I am.
My name is Joshua Bruce. I’m an Italian-American from San Francisco. I was raised Catholic, and it shapes me. I love my family and yet am apart from them by choice. I’m queer, and this is important, and I’m a geek and this is less important but just as fun. I love the kiss of the morning sun and the quiet hours of the night with others and I will never stop being cautious but I’m going to keep trying to be less so. I adore people and want to please everyone and yet I need to let people in, and that’s hard. But nothing challenges me more than solving problems, and I’ll solve that one too, given enough time. And all of this is important and is me and I wouldn’t change me for anyone else, and that… that was the hardest sentence I’ve ever written.
Everything past has been prologue. It’s time to move forward with this in mind. And if this turns out to be the only way I can bring people along, so be it.